Trying to level the playing-field with Airbnb
by David Weston
Chief Executive of the
Bed & Breakfast Association
The B&B Association has been campaigning since 2012 on the unfairness of our members being held to comply with some 140 rules, regulations and requirements whilst our newest commercial competitors on “peer-to-peer platforms” like Airbnb go unchecked and (in effect) unregulated (though the rules do apply to them too, but are not checked by Airbnb and are not enforced by regulators).
We think it is a huge disadvantage to traditional B&Bs, who comply with regulations and pay taxes, to be undercut by those who fail to do either – and to be allowed to do so by complacent policymakers and sleepy regulators. No wonder Airbnb grew by a further 73% last year, and now has twice as many listings in London alone as there are B&Bs in the whole of the UK! Some might say that any business could grow if unfettered by the requirement to prove themselves safe for consumers.
Those consumers, it seems, are surprised when they find they are unprotected – as for example, were Jess Paterson and her friends, who were badly injured in an Airbnb rental in Brighton when the balcony collapsed. Airbnb, of course, denied any liability. Jess Paterson said of Airbnb: “It’s like they don’t care. They haven’t provided us with anything: acknowledgement, apology, financial support for our ongoing needs. I sometimes get a bit depressed thinking of what’s happened and what might have happened,” she added.
Since the accident one of the victims has been unable to work, and two of them had to cancel their wedding and honeymoon.
Airbnb said safety is its “number one priority” and that problems like this are “incredibly rare”, and said “As soon as we were aware of the incident, we reached out to the guest to provide support”, but it refused to comment further on the basis that this is an ongoing case.
The vicims’ solicitor said the website has refused requests to provide financial assistance.
“We provide all hosts in the UK with Host Protection Insurance which provides insurance coverage for up to $1 million in the rare event of an injury”, the Airbnb website says. However, it is not clear if this insurance applies, if a claim will be allowed and if so, if it will succeed. Even if it did, the $1m limit applies to the total claim and all legal costs – which is unlikely to be enough for adequate compensation to four badly injured victims and to reimburse their legal costs.
Many travel and tourism industry commentators are hoping that a case will come to court to test Airbnb’s claim to have no responsibility in such circumstances.
In November I was speaking at an event alongside Airbnb’s head of policy, Patrick Robinson, and asked him directly whether, when a Fire & Rescue Authority (FRA) requests for the owners of listed local premises to be identified, Airbnb provides the identifications necessary to allow that FRA to do its duty to protect the public. Robinson admitted that Airbnb would refuse all such requests without a court order.
With 50,000 premises in London alone now let to paying guests through Airbnb which are beyond regulatory enforcement – because only Airbnb can identify the premises owners – this is clearly a very urgent issue.
However Richard Nye of the Policy Group within London Fire Brigade admitted to me that the LFB have never asked Airbnb – basically they don’t want to ‘discover’ vast numbers of new premises they may have to inspect, when they are too busy inspecting hotels and B&Bs!
Meanwhile your competitors in the so-called “collaborative economy” can carry on unfairly undercutting you. Let me know what you think – email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Bed & Breakfast Association is the UK trade association for B&B and guest house owners, and exists to inform, support & represent owners. Membership costs £60 a year.